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Bicarbonate of soda for cleaning

Bicarbonate of soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate or baking soda, is a versatile, non-toxic, household chemical. First used in glass making by the ancient Egyptians and as a leavening agent in bread baking by the Romans, it has a myriad of uses in cleaning, deodorising, pest control and first aid. It has the advantage of being environmentally friendly as well as cheap.

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General cleaning

Bicarbonate of soda is a very mild alkali. In solution with water, it lifts up grease and dirt and dissolves them. A gentle compound, one tablespoon of it together with the juice of half a lemon works well to clean tableware and utensils in a bowl of hot water. The same mixture is effective for wiping down work surfaces. It is non-toxic and can be used to clean food preparation areas and chopping boards. Sprinkle a small amount of it into a bowl of water to soak and wash fruit and vegetables.


As a mild abrasive, bicarbonate of soda is effective in cleaning more stubborn stains. Mixed as a paste with a little water, it can remove grease around ovens and microwaves, sinks, wash basins, baths and toilets. It’s a common cleaning agent for large machinery in commercial kitchens. Burned food on surfaces can be removed with dry bicarbonate of soda sprinkled on a damp scouring pad. It is used in the form of large crystals under pressure in the soda blasting process. This cleans and removes surface paint layers on aluminium, stainless steel, and glass that would be damaged by sand blasting.


Air fresheners act by masking unpleasant odours but sometimes make them smell worse. They can also trigger allergies. A layer of bicarbonate of soda crystals below pet litter will absorb urine odours. Crystals sprinkled over upholstery, mattresses, and carpets not only absorb pet and human odours, but the lingering smells of cigarettes and wood burning stoves. A small container with soda crystals placed in a fridge will absorb old food smells and keep it fresh.

Drains and septic tanks

A cup of bicarbonate of soda poured down a drain once a week will unclog grease and keep the drain free of odours. Ordinary food or fatty blockages can be cleared if the soda is left for an hour and then flushed down with a mixture of warm water and white vinegar. The soda’s alkaline nature keeps a septic tank at a reasonably neutral pH and stops it from becoming too acidic. This encourages the development of bacteria that digest organic waste.

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About the Author

Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.

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